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First minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill
First minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Images

Stormont ministers fail to agree extension of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland

A four-week circuit-break lockdown that has forced the closure of much of the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is due to end on Thursday.
Nov 9th 2020, 7:15 PM 46,636 18

Updated Nov 9th 2020, 10:29 PM

STORMONT MINISTERS HAVE failed to reach agreement on a potential extension of circuit-break coronavirus restrictions in the North.

Ministers in the powersharing executive are due to resume discussions on Tuesday morning.

Extensive talks on Monday failed to produce an outcome, with ministers at odds on whether to extend some or all of the measures for a further two weeks.

The executive initially adjourned the meeting on Monday morning to seek further data on the likely impact of easing some restrictions.

They reconvened in the early evening for further talks. A breakthrough did not materialise, with ministers set to resume at 11am.

A four-week circuit-break lockdown that has forced the closure of much of the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is due to end at midnight on Thursday.

With hospitals still under sustained pressure dealing with Covid-19 admissions, ministers are set to extend some of the restrictions for a further two weeks.

However, they are considering relaxing some measures. It is understood these could allow cafes and restaurants to reopen, but without alcohol being sold.

However, there are doubts whether ministers will press ahead with this option, as it is understood discussions on Monday evening acknowledged concerns raised by the hospitality sector.

Representatives from the sector insisted that the inability to sell alcohol would make trading unviable.

Leading Belfast restaurateur Michael Deane called the proposal “crazy”.

“Where does that leave us to go?” he asked. “Absolutely devastating and I think it is criminal, I think it is absolutely stupid.”

Other critics of the measures being considered by the DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition included DUP MP Ian Paisley.

He accused the executive of taking decisions for the “optics”, in order to make the administration look good.

Paisley questioned the evidential basis for claiming the ban on alcohol in restaurants would drive down infection rates.

“It’s like saying you can open a hairdresser but you can’t use a comb,” he told the BBC.

“Seriously, what’s the evidence for that?”

It is understood the executive is also considering extending the closure of pubs that do not sell food for a further two weeks.

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Ministers are also assessing whether close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, could be allowed to resume, as long as strict restrictions are observed.

At Monday’s remote executive meeting, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, ministers requested further analysis on these proposals.

It is understood chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young then worked to pull together evidence related to the specific moves.

Ministers reconvened this evening to consider the information.

The DUP favours a relaxation of the current restrictions.

It is understood Sinn Fein is content to extend many of the restrictions but wants to see some easements, particularly for those working in close contact services.

Ministers are under pressure to come to an agreed position to give businesses time to prepare for potential changes on Friday.

It is understood they are assessing whether close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, could be allowed to resume as long as strict restrictions are observed.

It is also understood that any decisions will be announced in the Assembly chamber by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

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